Portion of Cincinnati Homeless Camp Ban Overturned by Appeals Court

The ruling by the state appeals court narrows the scope of the ban, which can now only include public land within the Cincinnati city limits

click to enlarge A tent city in downtown Cincinnati - NICK SWARTSELL
Nick Swartsell
A tent city in downtown Cincinnati

A ban on encampments by those experiencing homelessness can only apply to public property within the limits of the City of Cincinnati, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 20, limiting the scope of the ban a Hamilton County judge ordered in August of 2018. 

The ban came after the city ordered a tent city along Third Street near Fort Washington Way removed earlier that summer, sparking a game of cat-and-mouse between the city and camp residents. Eventually, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters sued the city to get a legal order prohibiting sleeping outdoors in order to stop the tent cities from popping up. That order by Judge Robert Ruehlman was gradually extended to include all of the county. 

The New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn offered space for those experiencing homelessness to set up camp on its property, though the letter of Ruehlman's order seemed to make that illegal. Tent city residents eventually ended up on private property in Over-the-Rhine, where they dispersed after they were threatened with arrest. 

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city and county on behalf of New Prospect, saying that the church's religious liberty had been infringed by the camp ban. New Prospect argues its faith requires it to serve those without homes. 

U.S. District Court Judge Tim Black upheld the city's ban last year, but only on the condition there was enough shelter space to house those living in the tent encampments. That has been a hotly-debated issue, however, with activists saying area shelters are full. 

The three-judge panel with the state court of appeals ruled that a countywide ban that includes private property is an overreach, but also upheld the ban within city limits on public property. 

The judges also took issue with some elements of the city's handling of the tent cities, noting there was disagreement between some members of Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley about how to address the camps. Cranley, who argued that the camps were health and safety concerns, pushed for the removal of the tent cities. The court ruled he had "no direct authority" to do so without city council's approval. 

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